County Takes Step Toward 4-Year Budget

Washtenaw County commissioners have given initial approval to a four-year budget planning cycle, a change from the current two-year cycle that’s been in place since 1994. The 6-1 vote came during the board’s April 17, 2013 meeting, with final approval expected on May 1. Voting against the item was Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was not in the room when the vote was taken.

The board had been briefed on the issue at a Feb. 21, 2013 working session. County administrator Verna McDaniel has cited several benefits to a longer budget planning cycle, saying it would provide more stability and allow the county to intervene earlier in potential deficit situations. State law requires that the board approve the county’s budget annually, but a quadrennial budget would allow the administration to work from a longer-term plan.

With a two-year approach, larger cuts must be made within a shorter timeframe to address anticipated deficits. A four-year plan would allow the administration to identify potential deficits at an earlier date, and target savings that would compound over the longer period, making the overall budget more manageable.

The county is currently working on a new budget starting in 2014. Earlier this year, the county administration projected a $24.64 million general fund deficit over the four-year period from 2014 through 2017. A much smaller general fund deficit of $3.93 million is projected for 2014, but McDaniel hopes to identify $6.88 million in structural changes for that year – a combination of new revenues and cuts in expenditures – in order to eliminate the cumulative deficit going forward.

Some commissioners expressed concerns about a four-year budget cycle, including the fact that commissioners are elected every two years and therefore might not be able to adequately contribute to setting budget priorities. Most notably, Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) spoke at length about his frustrations, and ultimately cast the sole vote against the proposal. Both Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) observed that the annual budget affirmation process acted as a fail-safe, allowing commissioners to make adjustments based on changing priorities.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]